Georgette LeBlanc looks to raise profile of parliamentary poet laureate

By Canadian Press
April 2, 2018 - 9:09am

OTTAWA — Georgette LeBlanc looks around the parliamentary library in the Centre Block and admits she was last in the building when she was in high school.

The Quebec-born, Nova Scotian-raised poet will be spending a lot more time in this library over the next two years during her term as parliamentary poet laureate, adding to the writing surrounding her on this sunny morning.

The position is not exactly what LeBlanc envisioned herself doing when last she walked through the place. At the time, she was interested in politics and even applied — unsuccessfully — to become a parliamentary page.

Now, she wants to make sure Canadians learn more about the little-heralded position that Parliament created 17 years ago.

Writing has always been part of her life.

LeBlanc says she wrote in a journal as a young girl before expanding to free verse growing up in Baie Sainte-Marie, N.S. She says poetry is a way for her to approach her life, but also, admittedly, stressful and demanding.

Her process starts with an idea. She writes, rewrites and takes the time to reflect on each word: How does the poem flow? How do the ideas move on the page? 

At a certain point in the writing process, it becomes a matter of sound, particularly when she writes in French steeped in her Acadian roots. Her 2013 book, "Prudent," tells the story of the Acadian expulsion and was a finalist for the 2014 Governor General's Literary Awards.

She put the process to use for her first poem as parliamentary poet laureate to mark International Women's Day. LeBlanc says she thought back to her mother and how she spoke of the "Persons Case," which recognized women as "persons" under the law and dictated they could no longer be denied rights.

LeBlanc will be expected to write more poems during her two-year tenure, a term that began in January and carries with it a $20,000 stipend. The eighth person to hold the post since it was created in 2001, LeBlanc will also be expected to sponsor poetry readings and advise the Library of Parliament on its cultural collection.

Less clear is if she'll also do more rapping, having been featured on Nova Scotian rap band Radio Radio's song "Galope" released in 2012.

There is a little bit of ego in her writing, she jokes, because if she wasn't personally interested in what she wrote, it would just be paperwork.

"I'm trying to show you something or make you feel something. I'm trying to draw you into my world, so it's important for me to elicit some kind of response in the reader, positive or negative," she says.

"Poetry is very me-centred. It's my experience and that's not to say it's the best one, but it's coming from my point of view. It's my way of looking at things, so you can take it or leave it, you don't have to enjoy it, but it is my interpretation."

She is also likely to spend more time in the library itself — a place LeBlanc says she feels is even more important in a digital culture. This is the spot to slow down and think, she says.

"Slow down and taking the time and really paying attention to small things or moments, events, feelings, emotions, human experience," she says.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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